In many ways recovery is a paradox. On the one hand, we are of the opinion that you can’t force a person to walk through the doors of NA, OA , AA. or any other program of recovery. Once a person commits to the program, each works the steps at his or her own pace. Some people go thru the steps within their first year, while others take a much longer time.
On the other hand, for greater growth to take place, we often need to push thru our comfort zone. When we are stuck in our process of growth, we need to examine why this is happening. Have we paused because more work is required at that point. Or perhaps, we are “stuck” because we don’t want to leave our comfort zone. At these times we need to push thru our fears which are holding us back. This often involves a leap of faith on our parts. We can also turn to others in the program for feedback and advice. By speaking with others we find that the path we are walking has successfully been trod on by others. Finally, by turning to our Higher Power we often discover a lifting of some of our resistance to change and growth.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to step outside of my comfort zone?
There are people who are constantly “shoulding on” others. They are the ones who give advice, often unsolicited. That advice often comes with a “should” attached. “You know, you really should eat more; eat less; go out with so and so; break up with so and so; take that job; quit that job etc.”. Those of us who have been in program for a while know that “shoulding on” people rarely works. People usually don’t change until they are ready to do so. We know this from personal experience. How many times did people “should on us” about our addictive behaviors with little or no results.
Instead of placing the focus on others, we now place the focus on ourselves. Once we do so, we find that there is indeed much work to be done. All that energy spent observing others in the past can now be of benefit to us. We discover that we can be very astute in identifying areas in need of improvement within ourselves. We need to differentiate between an assessment as opposed to a critical judgment. “Shoulding” on ourselves is almost as bad as “shoulding” on others.
Personal Reflection: Am I guilty of “shoulding” on myself or others?
People in the program come in all shapes and sizes. Many of us did have certain things in common. One of those commonalities was our tendency to isolate. When the phone would ring we wouldn’t pick it up because we really didn’t want to speak to anyone. We didn’t want to burden you with our problems or we thought you just wouldn’t understand us. When a group of our friends were going out, we would make excuses or lie to avoid having to socialize. Often, we isolated to be with our drug of choice. Then we could drink or eat or use with abandon without fear of being disturbed. For those rare times where we were cajoled into going to a social gathering or a party, we couldn’t wait to leave. Nobody there really understood us anyway.
Today, life is different. We view social situations as a chance to relax or bond with others. In fact, our time spent socializing is often filled with laughter and feelings of good cheer.Sometimes we can just be there for another person and listen to them without comment or judgement. At those times we are solidifying our membership in the human race.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to be more mindful of isolating?
As time passed in sobriety, some of us began to romanticize about our old haunts. Regardless of the program we belonged to, returning to those places could definitely lead us towards a slip. This held true for whatever program we belonged to. For those of us in Alcoholics Anonymous hanging out in a bar would be a mistake. Similarly going to the track for a member in Gamblers Anonymous would be looking for trouble. For a member in Overeaters Anonymous going to a restaurant with an all you can eat smorgasbord would be a poor decision. Any place that might compromise our sobriety should be viewed as highly suspect. We need to let the “G-d of our gut” help us sort out appropriate places for us to go.
We believe that there are also “right” places for us to be. Any place which helps us to grow emotionally or intellectually is certainly appropriate. When a place helps us to deepen our connection to our Higher Power, chances are it’s a good choice. When we have the opportunity to do service, that’s a space worth occupying. When in doubt call your sponsor, though you probably know the answer already.
Personal Reflection: Have I visited any wrong places recently?
A young fellow had just attended his first AA meeting. He approached someone from the group who had spoken during the meeting. He said to him, “do you think this AA will work for me”? The group member responded with the following oft used statement:AA will work for people who believe in G-d.
AA will work for people who don’t believe in G-d.
AA will not work for people who believe they are G-d.
For those who believed in a Higher Power, 12 step program was a natural path. Left to our own devices, we had been unable to stop using our drug of choice. It was only when we admitted our powerlessness over alcohol and drugs that we could accept that a “power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”.
For those who didn’t believe in a Higher Power, we have found the program to be very helpful as well. By taking a fearless moral inventory of ourselves, we gained the ability to stay sober a day at a time. Some of us even found G-d along the way.
Unfortunately, program could not help those who maintained that they were G-d. Until a person could get humble and admit their shortcomings and make amends to others, they were missing the core of the program.
Personal Reflection: How has the program helped me today?
For a long time, we considered ourselves losers. We had lost friends, family and employment. We had lost the trust of those nearest to us. Often we reinforced these feelings by saying throughout the day, “I’m such a loser”. In program, we have a very different point of view. Many a newcomer has heard someone at a meeting say, “you didn’t take a drink or a drug today so you’re a winner”. At first, we might have discounted this statement. Over time we came to understand its veracity. We do not take sobriety lightly. The fact that we were able to stop using for many of us actually verged on the miraculous. For that alone we qualified as a winner. What really marked us as a winner was everything that followed that initial decision. As we began to work the steps, real changes began to be observed. We might not have even noticed these changes in ourselves because they were so gradual. However, these changes were often verified for us by people who had not seen us for a long time. They commented on how much we had changed. They confirmed that we truly were winners, albeit slow ones. And that was just fine with us.
Personal Reflection: How was I a winner today?
Somewhere along our road of recovery we have all entertained the same thought. We say to ourselves, “after X years of sobriety, maybe I could drink, or drug or use again”. This rationalization is all the more attractive to people who had high bottoms. They say, “I didn’t drink every day and I never missed a day of work”. Or, “I only binged or used to excess occasionally”. On the surface, this sounds like it makes a lot of sense. Aren’t we older and wiser now? We weren’t really that bad were we? The reality is that high bottoms have trap doors. Time and time again, people have gone out to test these waters, only to find that their descent into their addiction of choice was rapid and all encompassing. The main reason this happens is that our “isms” pre-dated our using. Although we had worked on ourselves in program, all those character defects came roaring back once we picked up that drink or that drug. In addition, perhaps we had an unrealistic view as to just how high our bottom actually was. Alcoholics and addicts are notorious for minimizing how much they used. Regardless, high or low bottom, the trap door is always waiting to open.
Personal Reflection: Is there a part of me that believes I can use safely?
In the 1960’s gurus and ashrams first appeared in the United States. Along with yoga, meditation began to become a household word. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of Americans were already practicing meditation in an unpublicized way. They were members of twelve step programs and meditation was a foundation stone of recovery. Of course, when newcomers came into the program, meditation was a foreign concept. They often turned to their sponsor for clarification. Their conversation began with the sponsee asking for how often and long they needed to meditate. Usually they were told to meditate daily for about 20 minutes. Invariably, the sponsee would say, “well, what if I have a busy day ahead”? To which the sponsor would say, “then you’d better meditate for an hour”. That answer seemed counter-intuitive but the reality is that time spent in meditation is time well spent. Those few minutes help set our mood for the entire day. When we meditate, we feel calmer and more present. A more stressful day requires greater preparation. Beyond that, many of us find solutions to problems while sitting; that we believe are Higher Powered.
Personal Reflection: How long do I need to meditate for today?
Prior to program, many of us prided ourselves on our quick repartee. We had an answer for every question, and an opinion on every topic. We viewed ourselves as the expert on all things and made sure people knew it. Sometimes, we would get into arguments with people who had the audacity to question our expertise.
When we entered the program we felt as if the rug had been yanked out from underneath us. We were no longer viewed as G-d’s gift to humanity. At a meeting, when someone called themselves “a garden variety drunk” we winced. We weren’t a garden variety anything. We were special. Then some kid half our age came up to us and asked if we needed a sponsor. “Who the heck does he think he is asking me that”, we exclaimed.
Over time, we saw that part of our problem was our arrogance and ego. Maybe we were just another vegetable in the garden. Maybe that kid who approached us about sponsoring us really had something to offer us. As we opened ourselves up to learning about the program and emotional sobriety, we discovered that there was much to learn and we were teachable. That’s when we found out about humility.
Personal: Reflection: Have I remained teachable?
Each of us is told upon entering program to choose a home group. You would think that people would choose a home group closest to where they live. The reality is that people will often chose a home group which often involves travel and inconvenience to get to. They will tell you they go to that group because it has “good sobriety”. When pressed, they will say, “people with good sobriety not only talk the talk, but walk the walk”. This means that a newcomer will always be greeted and given some phone numbers. At the end of the meeting, everyone pitches in and puts away the chairs and cleans up. During sharing, people are conscious of the time, so that many get the opportunity to speak. Members seriously refrain from the use of profanity. When there is a need for temporary sponsors or outgoing service commitments a lot of hands go up. When people share they identify and refrain from giving advice. The group is only as strong as the weakest link. We need to make sure that our behavior makes us a strong link in the group chain of members.
Personal Reflection: Am I a strong link in my home group?